Apr 13, 2020, written by Michael Bleby
Original article from afr.com.au

Victoria backtracks on open inspection curbs

Victoria has backtracked on a tough social distancing rule introduced only last week preventing open inspections of occupied homes, a requirement that would have all but shut down the struggling residential market.

Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz on Monday reversed regulations the government had justified as recently as Friday – on the grounds that an open inspection was no reason for a resident to leave their home under current COVID-19 restrictions on movement – following heavy lobbying by the real estate industry.

“We just had extensive conversations with the minister over the weekend and with the government,” Real Estate Institute of Victoria president Leah Calnan told The Australian Financial Review on Monday.

“It just seems that perhaps there was the practical aspect of what real estate agents were already doing that wasn’t property understood.”

The guidelines were put in place late last Thursday, triggering a call to arms from the REIV to its members on Good Friday.

Monday’s about-face highlights the difficulty policy makers face in managing containment of the highly contagious virus. Victoria’s short-lived rule was imposed even as talk was turning to ways to begin lifting some of the heavy-handed policies that have left the economy staring into recession and are expected to have cost 30,000 people their jobs in March alone.

Ms Calnan said the short-lived restrictions – which she said did curtail the private inspection plans of a “large number” of real estate agents on Saturday – may have been an effort by the state government to prevent a surge of people travelling between properties.

“If I was to have a guess, I would think the government intention was to restrict the real estate industry over the Easter break, but we don’t have that confirmed,” she said.

“If it was their intention, we would have liked to have understood that last Thursday and not for that information just to be updated on the Consumer Affairs Victoria website without any clear consultation or communication.”

‘Too strict’

A spokeswoman for Ms Kairouz said on Monday that inspections of properties were now allowed, but only through private appointment. She did not explain the reason for the backflip.

A government source, however, put the blame on Consumer Affairs Victoria, saying the agency that published the guidelines had taken too strict a line on the health advice of the state’s Chief Health Officer.

“They’ve misinterpreted the CHO directive,” the source said.

NSW was not changing the rules that permit scheduled private inspections of properties even while large-gathering open inspections are banned, a spokesman for NSW Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation Kevin Anderson said.

“Agents in NSW are able to conduct digital inspections or arrange individual appointments if suitable,” the spokesman said on Monday.

“We have not been made aware of any issues with this arrangement in NSW.”

The Victorian industry body roused its 5000 agent members with an email on Good Friday urging them to lobby Ms Kairouz, Premier Daniel Andrews and Treasurer Tim Pallas, and to challenge the rules that had been published late the previous day, which effectively prevented open inspections of any occupied property.

“While there is no exemption for occupants to temporarily vacate their place of residence to facilitate inspections, the inspection could be scheduled around their absence for a legitimate reason such work/education, exercise, health or obtaining supplies,” the REIV said in the email.

“All that is required then is for the vendor to clean the property, leave for a legitimate purpose, the agent and prospective purchaser attends keeping social distancing and ensuring no unprotected touching of surfaces etc and then for the agent to clean up any accidental touch areas.”